Yesterday we looked at one of the most important Christmas-themed works of twentieth-century American literature. Today, we’re sticking with twentieth-century American writers and moving on to the subject of Christmas gifts.
William Faulkner (1897-1962), author of The Sound and the Fury (1929) and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949, was quite an easy person to buy gifts for, by all accounts – or by his stepson’s account, at any rate. The only Christmas presents that Faulkner would accept from his family were pipe cleaners. Faulkner’s stepson, Malcolm Franklin, wrote in his book Bitterweeds: Life with William Faulkner at Rowan Oak that Faulkner’s gifts ‘consisted of little bundles of pipe cleaners, some in assorted colors, others snow-white. There were all kinds of pipe cleaners in various bundles clinging precariously to the branches of the tree, each with its little tag. There was one package of Dill pipe cleaners, which Faulkner liked particularly… If he received any other gift he would carefully take it to his office and there it would remain unopened.’ Why the great writer would only accept these presents remains a mystery.
Christmas gift-giving hasn’t always been so simple, of course. The work of the Roman poet Martial shows us that the Romans weren’t so different from us when it came to ‘Christmas’. Sigillaria, a day in the Saturnalia festivities, saw the Romans exchange gifts, much like our modern Christmas Day. Dr Matthew Nicholls, Senior Lecturer in Classics at the University of Reading, has developed the Virtual Rome project and studied the work of Roman writers including Martial. As this post from the University of Reading website reveals, Nicholls’ studies reveal that the Romans exchanged horrible sweaters (‘shaggy nursling of a weaver on the Seine, a barbarian garment’) and the ancient equivalent of the modern-day ebook or Kindle, a series of papyrus scrolls which enabled people to carry a large amount of literature around in a small volume.
Tomorrow, following Faulkner, another fact about twentieth-century American literature and Christmas gifts.
Image: William Faulkner, 1954 (author: Carl Van Vechten), Wikimedia Commons.